Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Encountering reality

A few days ago, I shared a quote from the late Alan Watts that continues to challenge me.

Part of it was this: “We’ve run into a cultural situation where we have confused the symbol with the physical reality, the money with the wealth and the menu with the dinner.”

The symbols, he notes, are self-imposed controls that we feel are needed because we believe, as human beings, we can’t be trusted.

But, of course, the controls can’t be trusted either because, as he points out, we made them.

Ultimately we must be thrown back on ourselves and on “physical reality.”

If only we knew how to be in touch with ourselves and nature around us. So much of our understanding of both is mediated through symbols. We are told (and shown) what we should fear, what we need, what it means to be “a success.” We are given — and give — misleading and false measures of our being.

As a result, we lose our very sense of who we are and what is important. Tragically, we also lose the knowledge of how to regain what we have lost.

As for “physical reality,” we spend less and less time with it. Instead we inhabit a fantasy world that has little to do with the real one, except that our addiction to fantasy will contribute to the neglect and ultimately destruction of our neglected reality and of ourselves.

Watts died in 1973. Ubiquitous computers, high-definition televisions, video games, cell phones, and iPods — mass disseminators of alluring symbols — were not part of his world. And yet even then, he warned of a confusing of symbols with reality.

If he only knew what the next third of a century would bring. The confusion has spread unabated. Out of it has emerged a symbol-manipulating, reality-averse, fear-mongering government more controlling than any this nation has seen.

The hope, if there still is hope, resides in our direct encounters with each other — in families, in communities, in civic and service organizations. Being together, working together, knowing and addressing each other’s needs, trusting, we have no need for external controls, no need for media-generated symbols.

We desperately need to experience and respond to the fullness of our shared, immediate reality.



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